Politics & Government

GOP congressman won’t challenge Tillis for US Senate seat in North Carolina

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker will not run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2020, ending months of speculation about whether the Greensboro congressman would challenge incumbent Thom Tillis and set up what could be a divisive GOP primary.

Walker said he met with President Donald Trump in May and has another meeting scheduled with the president, whose endorsement would carry enormous weight in a GOP primary. Tillis has angered some conservatives with stances seen as anti-Trump, including co-sponsoring a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller and vowing to vote against the president’s emergency declaration. Tillis reversed his position and voted with the president on the emergency declaration.

Raleigh businessman Garland Tucker is running in the GOP primary against Tillis. Sandy Smith, a farmer from Winterville, is also running for the nomination.

Walker, a former Baptist pastor, is in his third term in the U.S. House. He served as chairman of the Republican Study Committee and is now the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference.

“The support from President Trump and conservatives across North Carolina in encouraging me to run for the Senate has been deeply humbling,” Walker said in a statement. “When I first ran for Congress, I confronted an establishment political machine with considerable resources, power, and connections, but we overcame long odds for an improbable win.

“While polling in both the primary and general election conveyed we could find similar success in 2020, the most important thing is that we keep North Carolina red for President Trump. After prayerful reflection and consideration, I am confident that my continued service in the House will best help our efforts to reclaim the majority from Nancy Pelosi and advance our shared conservative goals.”

Walker released a long statement on Facebook explaining his decision. In it, Walker said he reached out to Tillis on Wednesday night to tell him that he was not running for the Senate.

The decision comes more than two months after the federal indictment of Greg Lindberg, a Durham businessman whose many campaign contributions included $200,000 to Walker and groups supporting him. Walker has not been charged in the indictment accusing Lindberg and state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes of participating in an attempt to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey.

The indictment says a politician it labels “Public Official A” helped Lindberg as he sought friendly regulation from Causey. A Feb. 12, 2018, email described in the indictment refers to a $150,000 payment being made to Public Official A in connection with his help. Campaign records show Lindberg sent $150,000 on Feb. 17, 2018, to the Mark Walker Victory Committee. Walker’s office has said he has assisted the federal Department of Justice in its investigation.

Tucker said earlier this week that he preferred Walker not get into the race.

“My hope is that we can have a head-to-head square-off with Sen. Tillis,” he said.

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Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.